“I write with very good news,” Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. told the Notre Dame community in an email on March 25. After a year marked by viral outbreaks and uncertainty, the university finally obtained approval from the Indiana Department of Health to open a vaccination center on campus which would offer the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to students before the end of the semester.
Some students, such as sophomore Natalie Selover, were happy about the opportunity to be vaccinated. “Having the vaccine available so close to on-campus students helped make sure that everybody could get vaccinated and that it was an easy process,” she said. “I’m really glad that Notre Dame helped me get the vaccine before I returned home to my family.”
Junior Kaitlyn Barbour, who grew up in South Bend, was hopeful that a vaccinated student body would protect the local community. According to Barbour, Notre Dame students “don’t see the impacts [COVID-19] has on the greater South Bend community.”
Junior Miguel Hoch decided to remain at home during the 2020-21 school year in order to keep himself and his family safe from the virus. Although he was not personally affected by most of the impacts of COVID-19 on campus this year, he has been pleasantly surprised with the university’s vaccine rollout. “I am eager to get to a point where we are all vaccinated,” Hoch said. “Then I will feel more comfortable coming back to school.”
This semester, the university will not require students to receive the vaccine. Instead, Notre Dame officials incentivized students with a “relaxation of several campus health protocols” — including eliminating the mask requirement for outdoor gatherings of fewer than 25 people and permitting some cross-dorm visits — if 90% of undergraduate students received the vaccination and updated their status with University Health Services. After an announcement that over 90% of the student body had received a vaccination, these changes were implemented on April 21, the second “mini break” of the semester.
Next fall, however, the university will require all students to be vaccinated in order to enroll. The mandate was met with some opposition from students, many of whom object to the Pfizer vaccine for religious reasons. Graduate students Christopher Romanowski and Joseph Klatt co-wrote a letter to the editor in The Observer, arguing that a Catholic university should not require students to receive a vaccine that used fetal cell lines to test its efficacy. The students urged university officials to wait to require a COVID-19 vaccination until alternative options became available.
“We feel that Notre Dame is violating our rights of conscience,” Klatt told Scholastic.
Notre Dame will allow medical and religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine. Students with religious objections must submit a letter explaining their rationale and meet with an official who will then consider their request.
“We continue to be deeply grateful for the generosity, compassion and resilience of the Notre Dame community in this most challenging year,” Jenkins concluded his March 25 email. “As the availability of vaccines brings a new sense of hope and renewal, please continue to take care of yourselves and each other.”